From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin CF 63 - December 30, 1870.


From Mme Martin to Mme Guérin

December 30, 1870

My dear sister,

Today I went to Le Mans to bring back Marie and Pauline. When I returned, I found your letter. You were sick again? As you say, this has been a bad year for you, and it’s a blessing that the year is coming to an end. We’ve all had our share because one sees nothing but sadness and devastation. I’m heartbroken over it. We have never been so unfortunate.

But there is still nothing in our towns. You would have to go to Le Mans to get an idea of the desolation that this sad war is leading to. My sister told me things that make my heart bleed. The poor sick people are dying by the thousands. At the Hospice of Le Mans alone, they’re burying up to eighty people a day, and there are mobile hospitals everywhere. The secondary school and all the religious communities are obliged to take people in.

Fifteen minutes before I arrived at the Visitation Monastery, the municipal authorities came to tell the nuns that they were going to send them thirty patients.

Imagine the difficulty of those poor sisters, they who had promised to live a cloistered life! The entire Community was very upset. They went to find the Bishop so that he would plead on their behalf, but I believe there will be no way of escaping it. They’re going to have to break through the walls and block the doors leading to where the Community lives in order to preserve their enclosure.

They had decided not to return the children to their parents, so they could say they were their boarding students. Just as I arrived my sister was writing to tell me not to come and get my children, and she didn’t want me to take them home. You had to see how my daughters and I were crying. Marie could no longer go down the stairs. She was leaning on the banister sobbing profusely.

Finally they let me take them, but I was so struck by all this I’m still saddened by it. I wasn’t able to hug the children until we were settled in the coach. We ran away from the Visitation Monastery as if we were being pursued by bandits! They didn’t decide to let us leave until three o’clock. The trunks weren’t ready, and we had to be at the station at three-forty! When we arrived, the train was packed. They had to reattach a car for us, and we had the luck of finding ourselves alone in the car for the entire trip. So here was our return, but you see it wasn’t easy!

In addition to the forced mobile hospitals in Le Mans, you see the Red Cross on every street. Almost all the rich people have patients in their homes, to the extent that Madame D took in a soldier dying of dysentery. Smallpox also reigns on all sides.

At the Visitation Monastery, they had up to sixteen soldiers to house and feed in a private house. The thirty patients being sent to them will also be at their expense. Last week, thirty patients were also sent to the Carmelite Monastery. As these poor sisters couldn’t house them, the authorities left them at their door, saying, “Let them die there, if you want!” So they had to take them in.

They’re saying there’s a lot of ill will towards the measures being taken by the municipal authorities, who do the worst things to disturb the religious houses. Really, shouldn’t they make an exception for them? How can they force poor cloistered nuns to house servicemen? I would find it more just if they forced me to take in sick people rather than send them to the Poor Clares, but at the moment, they want them in the convents.

I don’t think the children are going to return to the boarding school soon. That’s the opinion of my sister, also. I’m certainly going to keep them at home for the duration of the war.

My little Céline has a rash on her face. She’s suffering a great deal, and we must be with her constantly. She’s hardly able to open her mouth. Doesn’t my brother know of any remedy that will help? If he does, I’d be very grateful if he would let me know.

I’m sending you very modest things for my two little nieces’ New Year’s gifts: two little silver eggcups. But this year is not about New Year’s gifts.

 © Society of St. Paul / Alba House


Back to the list